2011 Native American Heritage Month
November is National American Indian Heritage Month. This observance was first celebrated as American Indian Day in New York State back in May 1916. In 1990 President George H. W. Bush designated the month of November as "National American Indian Heritage Month" to honor the many contributions and accomplishments of American Indians and Alaska Natives. This year's theme is "Service, Honor, Respect: Strengthening Our Cultures and Communities."
American Indians lived in America for thousands of years before European explorers arrived in the Americas in the 1400 and 1500s. American Indians are the original Americans. They have family and tribal connections with the original peoples of North, South, and Central America, and many still maintain tribal affiliations or community attachment. Currently, there are 565 federally-recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and more than 100 state-recognized tribes across the United States. Although the number of Americans identifying themselves as exclusively Native American or Alaska Native increased 18.4% in the past ten years, this number makes up roughly only .9% of the total US population (2.78 million).
American Indians and Alaska Natives have helped lead the way in our country's fight and struggle for freedom and security. In World War I, 12,000 American Indians joined the ranks of the armed forces-even though it wasn't until 1924 that Congress granted American Indians U.S. citizenship. Their unique combat abilities and survival skills, which frustrated opponents for generations, became invaluable to the nation's combat success. In World War II, approximately 44,000 American Indians served our nation.
In 2001, Congress honored a group of World War II veterans who provided a unique service to the nation's war effort by serving as Code Talkers, as non-speakers found it difficult to distinguish the unfamiliar sounds used in the Navajo language. The original twenty-nine Navajo "code talkers" received the Congressional Gold Medal in July of that year and subsequent code talkers have received the Congressional Silver Medal. Their unbreakable code helped the US Marine Corps battle across the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. Until 1968, they and their code remained secret. Their contributions helped our nation during a time of need and their efforts are recognized outside of the USA in global history books For all American Indian veterans, the honor of defending their country, their tribes and their way of life has always been paramount
Americans have the opportunity to reflect and honor the legacy of our American Indians and Alaska Native Americans for their contributions to our history with their vibrant and rich cultural community and strong heritage. Our American Indian and Alaska Native American family were the first to contribute to the tapestry that makes us American.
Let us celebrate this month by broadening our knowledge base of the heritage, history, art, and traditions of the American Indian and Alaskan Native peoples. Please take advantage of the wealth of resources available within the DC metropolitan area to further appreciate the history and culture of this very rich community as follows:
Library of Congress
National Gallery of Art
National Park Service
National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH supported sites)
- The War of 1812: Native Nations Perspective